According the numbers released early today, the death toll in China is 811, which is past the number of individuals who died in the 2003 SARS epidemic, which killed 774 people worldwide. There are 37,198 confirmed cases in China, but many doctors believe the number is likely to be much higher since laboratories are inundated with tests. While the response measures taken in Wuhan and Hubei province seem to be helping the number of new cases to stabilize, it’s still too early to tell how effective they really are according to officials at the World Health Organization (WHO).
This is why the WHO has assembled a team of experts from around the world who will be heading to China in the next day or two to assist with the outbreak. This comes after the United States’ Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been offering for over a month to go there and provide aid. It has teams within its Epidemic Intelligence Service sector that can be up in the air within 24 hours. The WHO has been offering the same thing for the past two weeks, but Chinese officials have been reluctant up until now to receive the help.
Part of this reluctance is probably due the criticism that China received for its handling of the 2003 SARS outbreak. In addition, there are certain aspects of the outbreak that China probably doesn’t want made public because it’s embarrassing for them. Specifically, with the US, China has been stuck in a trade war for more than a year, so they’re probably less receptive to accepting help from us.
The reason for the experts to go is to help figure out the molecular virology and epidemiology. Molecular virology is sequencing the virus’s genome and manipulating it to perfect diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccine candidates. Epidemiology is finding out answers to questions, like who gets infected versus who doesn’t, how long the incubation period is, why some people die, how many other people does each victim infect and how common is it for an outbreak to happen in a hospital. Experts also say that it would be very useful to develop a blood test for antibodies, which would allow them to know how many infected people have recovered. This would provide more in-depth information as to how lethal and how widespread the virus is. One of the concerns in being able to get an accurate sense of how this coronavirus originated is that Chinese officials have already closed and disinfected the Wuhan seafood market where the virus is thought to have come from. They did this without swabbing animals and their cages or testing everyone who was working there.
As all of this is going on a global scale, it was reported that the first American to die from the new coronavirus happened on Thursday. The woman was around 60-years-old and had underlying health conditions. She was at hospital in Wuhan according to US embassy officials. As a result, questions are now being raised over whether the Trump administration and the State Department have taken adequate action to ensure the safety of Americans in China and to support the evacuation of those who want to leave. At this time, it’s unclear if the woman who died tried to leave the city on any of the previous flights organized by the State Department.
Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist, tried to sound the alarm in late December about the new coronavirus. However, in early January, he was reprimanded for his honesty by being forced to sign a statement that condemned his warning as being untrue and an illegal rumor. He contracted the virus himself from a patient that he was treating for glaucoma and died this past Friday. He was only 34 and left behind an expectant wife and small child.